The church in America is at a crossroads; will it be defined by the world or will it be defined by Scripture? We have many labels to choose from today: republican, independent, or democrat; conservative, moderate, or liberal; African American, White American, or Latino American; and alt-right or antifa, to name a few. But where does the American Church stand?
The recent events in Charlottesville, VA, have opened a stapled wound that America has attempted to heal with a bandage. The result has been an untreated wound that has allowed an infection to fester and burst the wound wide open.
The fascinating insight into infections is that they operate out of sight which gives the impression that everything is okay, but eventually the untreated infection makes its way outside the wound and reveals what was hidden but operating under the surface.
Most reasonable Americans will acknowledge the sin and evil of our past administrations of chattel slavery and Jim Crow. Furthermore, segments of the church in America were instrumental in the deconstruction and destruction of both of those diabolical social structures; but not all.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his very poignant appeal from a Birmingham, AL, jail, for the American Church to search its soul and advocate for biblical justice, observes: “So here we are moving toward the exit of the twentieth century with a religious community largely adjusted to the status quo, standing as a tail-light behind other community agencies rather than a headlight leading men to higher levels of justice.”
Has the American Church re-adjusted to the social status quo? From my perspective it depends on which side of the status quo one falls. On the one hand, those who benefit from the status quo seem to be more of a “tail-light,” afraid to challenge their congregations and communities to the embrace biblical ethic that we are all made in the image of God and must be treated as such.
On the other hand, those who suffer from the status quo seem to be more of a high beam “headlight” that instigates animus and blinds people’s hearts to the need for true biblical reconciliation.
No matter which side one falls, the American Church has become enmeshed in the culture war because we have allowed ourselves to be vacuumed into taking on a secular label. But the Apostle Paul provides ecclesiological clarity to a region where the labels of the status quo were disrupting a community of called-out ones (i.e., Christians). Paul admonishes the churches in Galatia that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (3:28).
Paul wanted the Galatian Christians to understand, and the Holy Spirit wants American Christians to understand, that societal labels do not take precedence over our new relationship in Christ Jesus. The Jews didn’t stop being Jews and females didn’t stop being females. Paul’s point was that we who are in Christ take on a higher identity – a higher label – and as Christ-ones’ our higher identity not only distinguishes us from the world but requires that we identify more with one another.
In his Birmingham letter, Dr. King went on to say:
There was a time when the Church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the Church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But they went on with the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven” and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.
So the crossroads for the American Church in 2017 is which label will we choose? Will we be white, black, brown, yellow, republican, democrat, right, left, or will we be “the Church?”
Now is our time to stand up for biblical justice and bring an end to the present evils of hate and racism. This will cause some people to unfriend us on Facebook, unfollow us on Twitter, and, even, leave our churches. But if the American Church will not be the “thermostat” for biblical ethics, who will? If the American Church will not be “the Good Samaritan,” who will? If the American Church will not be the moral “watchman,” who will?
Rev. Isaac Hayes is the president of Healing of the Soul Ministries. He is also the Assistant Pastor for Strategic Development and Stewardship at the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago, IL. You can follow Rev. Hayes on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram through his handle @RevIsaacHayes.